In Seattle and all over the state of Washington, there is growing concern for the increased number of gang-related crimes taking place on the streets. The RCW (Revised Code of Washington) Title 9, Chapter 9.94A, Section 9.94A.030 defines a criminal street gang as “any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol”, with the primary goal of committing criminal acts, “and whose members or associates individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal street gang activity.”
It is not unusual for some individuals to find themselves unknowingly belonging to a criminal street gang. Attorney Kevin Trombold has assisted many clients in Seattle who have been charged with gang-related crimes and provides valuable insights on what you can do if you find yourself in the same situation.
What Constitutes a Gang Crime in Seattle?
The RCW goes on to define a gang-related offense as any felony or misdemeanor offense committed for the benefit of or in association with any criminal street gang with the intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by the gang. This may include crimes to extend or maintain the gang’s size, prestige, and dominance in a certain area; crimes committed to carry out revenge or retribution on behalf of the gang or any of its members; or crimes carried out with the goal of giving the gang market advantage over any criminal market sector, such as manufacturing, delivering or selling controlled substances; prostitution, pornography and/or human trafficking or selling stolen property, to name a few examples.
Are Gang-Related Crimes Considered a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
Many states including Washington have laws that prescribe firm punishments for any gang-related crimes. Some criminal acts that may have been considered a misdemeanor on their own may be escalated to a felony crime if a court determines the crime was committed to benefit a gang or as a result of gang-related activity. This means that even misdemeanors can result in significant jail time in addition to a criminal record.
The classification of a crime will depend on its seriousness. The state of Washington uses three different classes to categorize felony offenses, namely Class A, B, or C felonies, with class A crimes being the most serious. For example, if a person is charged with leading organized crime or organizing criminal profiteering as a part of a street gang, this would be considered a Class A felony with penalties that can include a fine of up to $50,000.00 and up to life in prison. A crime of malicious mischief in the 2nd degree (such as destroying or damaging someone else’s property on purpose) is considered a Class C felony and while, in theory, it is considered less serious than a Class A felony, an individual charged with a Class C felony will still be subject to a fine of up to $10,000.00 and up to five years in prison.
What Are Some Examples of Defense Strategies for a Gang Crime?
When representing a client charged with a gang-related crime, an attorney will likely use a combination of common strategies to try to get the charge reduced or dismissed altogether. One example of a widely-used strategy is to question the credibility and legality of a person giving expert gang testimony, such as a law enforcement officer. An attorney can go after the witness’s credentials and experience on the subject, questioning the number of gang contacts they have had in the past as well as their education levels.
An attorney can also question the validity of any evidence presented by the prosecution by trying to show that the circumstances in which the evidence was obtained or apprehended from the defendant may have been illegal. If law enforcement cannot demonstrate that there was enough of a probable cause to justify a search, any evidence obtained as part of that search will likely be thrown out. Finally, another example of a defense strategy is questioning the factors that led law enforcement to classify the defendant as a gang member committing a gang-related crime. For example, the attorney can question whether the defendant was considered a gang member due to their race or for wearing certain types of clothing. These are just a few examples, and every case is different and an attorney may choose to use these or different defense strategies.
What Should I Do If I Have Been Accused of a Gang-Related Crime?
Being accused of a gang-related crime is a serious matter with possible lifelong consequences. If you are facing a gang-related crime accusation, it is in your best interest to speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. These cases are often complex and require intense investigation and analysis in order to generate a set of defense strategies that will hold up in court, requiring an attorney with significant criminal defense experience. The Law Offices of Kevin Trombold, PLLC have assisted many clients dealing with gang-related crime charges in Seattle, WA, and always strives to bring each case to the best possible resolution. Contact us for a free, no-obligation case evaluation to learn your options.